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Remembering Edwin Newman

September 22, 2010 - Jim Anderson

The death of American broadcaster Edwin H. Newman slipped largely under the radar.

He died Aug. 13 in England at the age of 91.

Public announcement of his passing didn’t come until Sept. 15.

A Wikipedia entry cites his “legendary calm and courtesy” as an NBC newsman from 1961 to 1984.

Michael Winship of Public Affairs Television in New York has written a tribute, “Where’s Ed Newman When You Need Him?”

He relates a story, included in Newman’s obituary in the Washington Post, of an encounter from 1971, when Newman interviewed 73-year-old comedian George Jessel on the Today show.

Jessel was a staunch supporter of President Richard Nixon and the Vietnam War. During the interview, Jessel compared the Washington Post and The New York Times to the Soviet government newspaper Pravda.

"You are a guest here," Newman told him. "It is not the kind of thing one tosses off. One does not accuse newspapers of being Communist, which you have just done."

Jessel responded, "I didn't mean it quite that way ... I won't say it again."

Newman replied, "I agree that you won't say it again. Thank you very much, Mr. Jessel."

Jessel said, "I just want to say one thing before I leave."

Newman said, "Please don't," and cut to a commercial.

As the Post reported, "When he came back on the air, Mr. Newman said television had a responsibility to uphold 'certain standards of conduct.'”

"'It didn't seem to me we have any obligation to allow people to come on to traduce the reputations of anyone they want,' he said, 'to abuse people they don't like.'"


Has Fox’s Bill O’Reilly ever featured that word?

And how might Newman have treated Ann (“Obama’s memoir is a dimestore ‘Mein Kampf’”) Coulter?

That’s not to say that extreme language has become an exclusive tactic of the right. The left is guilty, too. ... Ed (Lord, take Dick Cheney to the Promised Land) Schultz comes to mind.

Anyway, commercials still do interrupt accusations of fascism, racism, communism and terrorism.

Then we get more accusations.

Winship suggests that a time has passed when journalists such as Newman called upon their knowledge, experience and courage to rule certain discourse “out of bounds.”

“Their erudition, skill and dedication to separating fact from fiction, right from rant and legitimate grievance from bellicosity are woefully absent from all too much of today’s misshapen, mainstream media,” he writes.

Seems that way, yes.

Perhaps some broadcasters are fearful of being censors. Laying down the law, as Newman did with Jessel, leaves them vulnerable to attacks from the party that’s cut off.

But maybe the biggest factor is ratings.

O’Reilly, who’s been known to cut a mike when his own head is about to blow, boasts all the time about ratings.

How often did ratings even cross Newman’s mind?



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